The Italian coast guard has confirmed that it had saved six people from a boat that is thought to have set off from Algeria 10 days earlier with at least five of the migrants’ companions discovered to have died en route.

According to Infomigrants, a boat originally carrying 11 migrants has been recovered eight miles from the west coast of Sicily. Six migrants were rescued by the Italian coast guard, after 10 days at sea, Italian authorities confirmed.

At least five, if not six, of the other passengers on board the boat died en route and, according to a report in the Italian newspaper La Stampa, were thrown overboard to avoid any hygiene problems for the survivors on board.

According to the organization AlarmPhone, which has been in telephone contact with people in the boat over the last week, the craft was one of three which set out from Algeria on October 9.

The two other boats in the flotilla reached the Italian island of Sardinia a few days earlier. The last boat had been in distress since at least October 14, lost and drifting, says Alarm Phone on Twitter.

Alarm Phone says it alerted the relevant search and rescue authorities, but even after repeated tweets and contact with relatives of those on board, a rescue operation wasn’t launched until October 18.

Finally, after relatives managed to establish that the boat might be drifting somewhere off Sicily, an operation was launched.

At that point, Alarm Phone was reporting that at least six people on board the boat had already died. According to La Stampa, relatives of some of those on board, who are already in Europe also called the Italian coast guard directly and provided telephone numbers of those on board.

It was through this telephone data that the coast guard was finally able to track where the boat might have drifted. Once they had a better idea, the coast guard confirmed in its press release issued on October 18, they launched the operation.

Palermo’s coast guard sent a motorboat from Mazara del Vallo on the west of Sicily and eight miles out to sea, they found the boat and were able to rescue the six survivors on board. Frontex and the Italian air force and police forces also took part in the search and rescue operation and helped locate the boat from the air.

Since January this year, Italy has recorded almost 26,000 migrant arrivals from across the Mediterranean. The majority of them from Tunisia, but as the instability worsens in Libya, increasing numbers of boats are attempting to set sail from Tunisia and Algeria too.